I retired, and with a tremendous sense of relief I might add. I enjoy being retired. I relish my freedom to write, walk the dog and catch up on the TV I missed during earlier teaching years. I don’t miss my life of grading, writing lesson plans and trying to do the latest six impossible things that crazy administrators decided were urgent before breakfast. Another useless spreadsheet anyone? I so like being done with data demands that don’t advance student education. I so like being done with standardized-test demands that make differentiation impossible. Readers of this blog will understand.
I am also not feeling too well right now. Too much family vacation time and one-more-trip-for-ice-cream perhaps? I’m overdue at scheduling that physical.
All of this argues for a nice, slow subbing schedule filled with half-days to cover the endless meetings and doctor appointments of my not-yet-retired colleagues. I don’t need much extra money. I’m not certain I need any.
Last week, the emergency came at me in earnest. Former colleagues and friends texted. “Call the Bilingual Director,” the texts said. I called. My former district needs a full-time, long-term sub to cover six high school science classes. Apparently, the guy who was supposed to fill this position got a better offer and bailed at the last minute. The Bilingual Director, a likable woman I have known for years, is looking for a replacement, but she does not sound hopeful. She said she might even need all of the 500 hours I am allowed by Illinois retiree rules.
Here readers can see, in a nutshell, some of the ugliness that results from our inequitable school funding system. The science teacher who took that better position? I don’t blame him. A friend said to me this week-end, “But he should have honored his contract!” I don’t agree.
I am all for noble self-sacrifice and keeping promises. But for a teacher with no experience and only a bachelor’s degree, that job shift can mean the difference between getting $35,000 for the year or $45,000 — driving a mere 17 miles around here can add more than $10,000 to a starting salary. That higher starting salary may be the difference between a “living” wage and keeping your bartending job at night. I have worked with first-year colleagues who were making those martinis on the week-end. The higher starting salary in the wealthier district also usually comes with higher salary increases each year. Frequently, that higher salary comes with smaller classes and better working conditions. So I don’t blame Fred-Nye-the-Nonexistent-Science-Guy if another August offer came through at the last minute and he jumped the fence.
But now the impoverished district of my past has come hunting me. I so don’t want to do this. I am trying to finish a book on education. I absolutely don’t want to work so hard, and I know that if I take the position I will end up working all the time yet again. Because I have never abandoned a group of needy kids yet. I never will. If I take that offer, those kids will get a chance to learn science.
The money’s quite decent. In one of those ironies, this high-poverty district pays better than the other four, financially-much-stronger districts where I sometimes sub. It’s a challenge to find subs for tough districts. I am not afraid of much of anything, but there are simply middle-school and high-school classes in my old district where I will not go. I would rather forego the extra money and work in a nationally-feted district where I might luck into a talk by an author or scientist as part of my day, districts where I will not lose my “free” time to covering extra music or other classes that never found a sub.
I might end up teaching those tough classes in my old district, anyway, of course. That’s another hidden ugly that comes with being a financially and academically-disadvantaged district. I have gone into my old school to fill in for bilingual teachers and ended up teaching music. I have gone in to fill in for resource teachers and found myself in classrooms of feisty third-graders. This can happen anywhere, but my experience suggests that the magnitude of the problem varies depending on a district’s resources and classroom demands.
During my working years, I remember regularly arguing with the principal about redeploying subs. Substitute Smith would sign up for a special-education position that she expected to provide small class sizes and a teaching assistant. She would arrive at the main office while my (mostly awesome) Principal was doing the sub dance, trying to figure out how to make 5 subs cover for 8 teachers. If Ms. Smith was unlucky, the Principal might put her into an unexpected math or even gym position.
During the sub dance, some classes must be shared out to regular teachers. My Principal could disperse the special education kids into regular classrooms much more easily than all those math students. So suddenly Substitute Smith has a day with shifting groups of 26 or 28 math students in her room in a subject area she does not much like. In these Common Core times, she may not even know how to teach the material. In her time, no one made matrices to add simple sums.
I am straying off-topic here. If I want to describe challenges in a poor district that needs substitutes, though, this tangent does count. Does Substitute Smith come back to my old school after that day of math classes? Maybe not. She can always work in more prosperous, more reliable districts nearby. She does not need that impoverished district nearly as much as the district needs her. By the end of the year, my Principal might be trying to figure out what to do with 8 teachers out and only 3 subs in the building.
During certain years, I doubled up classes often. When I was out, colleagues took my kids. During a state-required, professional development, we once had six teachers out for development without a single substitute covering for us. The district had groups of teachers out from all schools, and the substitutes had naturally opted for the elementary and high school, leaving the middle school bereft of subs.
Eduhonesty: Back to the topic. I have a job offer I do not want to take. But I know some things. I know that certified bilingual science teachers like myself are thin on the ground. I know that this position could remain open for a long time. In my old middle school, we had positions that did not fill for half a year or longer. Long-term subs ran these classrooms. Or did not run these classrooms. In one instance I remember, two long-term subs quit and students ended up with three long-term subs teaching them social studies in only a couple of months. Rotating, long-term sub fill-ins can be deadly to learning.
I also know some of these kids. I retired from the middle school a couple of years ago and my former students are now in high school. That would give me a real advantage as I stepped in late to a fiasco already in progress.
Sigh. I don’t want to take this job. Maybe I won’t. I am still thinking out here. But I return to the title of this post: Who Will Teach Them Science if I Don’t?
Maybe nobody, though.
I have seen these long-term merry-go-rounds. They never go well.